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Cutting Phosphorus Advised

by Patricia R. McCoy
Capital Press - May 31, 2002

BOISE -- If Lower Boise River farmers can reduce enough of the phosphorus washing off their land into streams, they could profit from their efforts.

Farmers in the Lower Boise River watershed will be able to trade phosphorus-loading credits with point sources in the Snake River-Hells Canyon Complex, but only for reductions above a federally-approved baseline.

The market will determine prices, but U.S. Environmental Protection Agency source speculated that farmers could collect $5 to $175 per pound of phosphorus-loading credit.

The draft total maximum daily load, or pollution-loading standard, for the Snake River-Hells Canyon Complex proposes cutting phosphorus loads running from the Boise River into the complex by 68 percent. The current load for the entire complex is about 2,844 pounds a day. The draft TMDL came from environmental regulators who gathered public input for their plan.

It must be approved by the EPA before a final phosphorus loading standard can be set, and before any trading can occur. It has not yet been submitted to the federal agency. Idaho Department of Environmental Quality workers are assessing public comments recently submitted on the document, said Keith Griswold, ISCC water quality resource conservationist stationed in Caldwell. The departments should submit the draft TMDL to the EPA by the end of May or in early June.

If the EPA approves the proposed standard, landowners must meet it first. Only reductions beyond that level will be tradable, said David Ferguson, range and riparian specialist for the Idaho Soil Conservation Commission.

Farmers must use state-approved best management practices to cut the amount of phosphorus that leaves their operations. Idaho's approved BMPs are listed in the Agriculture Pollution Abatement Program. They are under-going technical review by personnel in local, state and federal conservation agencies to update them and incorporate new technologies. However, the list is available at conservation district offices, said Griswold.

The Snake River-Hells Canyon Complex stretches along the Idaho-Oregon border from just south of Adrian, Ore., to about a mile upstream from the confluence of the Salmon and Snake Rivers.

A proposed new EPA policy allows trading, Ferguson told the ISCC during its May meeting. A new memorandum of understanding between the commission, EPA and DEQ sets up trading in this particular case, he said.

Pollution trading allows a source facing high costs to reduce its pollution to compensate another source for achieving equivalent, less costly reductions, he said.

The Lower Boise River watershed was one of three locations across the nation assigned to test proposed pollution trading in pilot studies launched in 1996. No actual trading took place, said Griswold. Regulatory agencies and interested organizations and individuals met to discuss what would be needed to make such trading possible.

The success of those pilot projects led to the propose new EPA policy. EPA released that policy for public comment from May 15 to July 1. Persons interested in learning about the proposed policy, including how to comment on it and related draft rules, can access the information on the Internet at, Griswold said.

Trading Co-op
A number of federal, state and local government agencies joined representatives from private organizations and individuals in testing pollution load trading. In the process, they recognized that an organization was needed to serve as a banker to bring buyers and sellers together.

Idaho Clean Water Cooperative Inc., a newly formed water quality trading association, is the result. It will track trades in the Lower Boise River watershed via computer, said Robbin Finch, municipal representative on the cooperative's board. People who formed the co-op are involved in water quality pollution abatement.

"The cooperative will be the broker-banker-transaction keeper to bring buyers and sellers together. Our job will be to make sure all trades are legitimate, and conform to the rules," Finch said.

While individuals can trade, it's more likely transactions will occur in aggregates, with perhaps and irrigation or conservation district amassing enough credits to make a trade realistic, he said.

Persons who want more information on arranging trades from the Lower Boise River watershed can contact Finch at (208) 384-3916, or the other director of the cooperative, Bruce Smith, a Boise attorney. A third director representing the environmental community is also being sought, Finch said.

by Patricia R. McCoy Capital Press Staff Writer
Cutting Phosphorus Advised
Capital Press - May 31, 2002

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